The majority of incidents that occur on cruise ships are caused by the negligent actions of a cruise ship company or its crew. Some common illnesses and injuries on cruise ships that are the result of negligent actions include:

  • Slip and fall accidents (note that not all injuries are actionable);
  • Food borne illnesses;
  • Sexual assaults by crew members or other passengers;
  • Problems with the ship (e.g., fires, boat sinks, etc.);
  • Drowning, getting lost at sea, or other water-related accidents (e.g., boat collision);
  • Medical malpractice; and/or
  • Various other types of diseases or injuries that may happen while you are on board.

In addition, passengers on a cruise ship may also be exposed to certain crimes like theft, homicide, kidnapping, tampering with the vessel, and piracy. 

Can I Sue The Cruise Line For My Injuries? 

Whether a passenger can sue a cruise line for their injuries will depend on the laws governing the case, the terms and conditions listed on the passenger’s ticket, the statute of limitations, and the facts of their case. 

Passengers can usually find the answer to these questions by reading the terms printed on the back of their cruise line ticket. This is because a ticket transaction creates a contractual relationship between the passenger and the cruise line company.  

The laws of the jurisdiction in which the case is being heard will usually provide the proper statute of limitations. An injured passenger must file a lawsuit within the allotted time frame or else they will lose their chance to recover damages for their injuries. Once the statute of limitations expires, they will be barred from bringing a lawsuit. 

Both federal maritime laws and certain state laws may apply to the case. For instance, most personal injury lawsuits that involve cruise line liability are heard in places where the majority of cruise line companies are headquartered, which are predominantly in Florida and California. 

If an injury occurs while a cruise ship is in international waters, then federal maritime regulations will apply. Some cruise line companies may also specify time limits and jurisdiction on the ticket.

A passenger who wishes to file a lawsuit against the cruise line should consult a cruise lawyer immediately. A cruise lawyer will be familiar with maritime laws and how cruise line lawsuits work. They also will be able to determine whether a ticket’s contract terms are invalid or if they will prohibit a passenger from bringing their case.

When Can a Cruise Line Be Held Liable?

Generally speaking, a cruise line will most often be held liable for situations that involve injuring its passengers. The incident that led to the injury must have occurred on the ship (e.g., not while docked at a port where a passenger suffers an injury on land) and the cruise line or its crew members must have been either negligent or at fault for the resulting injuries. 

Passengers who are injured on cruise lines will typically file a personal injury lawsuit based on negligence. Under the legal theory of negligence, cruise ships are considered common carriers, meaning they have an elevated duty of care to keep their passengers safe. A passenger must prove that the cruise line or its crew members breached this duty, which then caused the passenger to suffer injuries and actual damages.  

Another type of case that can arise when a passenger is severely injured or lost at sea is a wrongful death lawsuit. Wrongful death lawsuits will be discussed in further detail below, but basically they allow a close family member of the deceased to sue for damages. If the family member who sues is the spouse of the deceased, they may also sue for loss of consortium damages. 

On the other hand, a cruise line will most likely not be held liable for injuries that occur on land, are caused by independent contractors, or result from actions associated with the cruise ship that do not fall below the standard duty of care for common carriers.

What are the Remedies in a Cruise Line Lawsuit?

The most common type of damages awarded in a cruise line lawsuit is compensatory damages. Compensatory damages are used to reimburse a plaintiff for the cost of their injuries, such as for medical bills, lost wages, lost earning capacity, and various other expenses. If proven, a plaintiff may also be able to recover damages for pain and suffering (e.g., emotional distress, reputational damages, etc.).

In cases where an individual died or disappeared, a close family member may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit and collect damages for their loss. These damages can be used to cover things like funeral expenses, loss of benefits, and loss of consortium. It should be noted, however, that only spouses of the severely injured or deceased can claim loss of consortium.  

Lastly, in rare instances where a defendant’s conduct is found to be outrageously offensive, a court may also award punitive damages. 

To learn more about the types of damages that a victim or the victim’s family can recover in a cruise line lawsuit, they should contact a cruise ship attorney for further legal advice. A cruise ship attorney will not only be helpful in determining the kinds of remedies available, but can also be hired to assist the injured parties with obtaining such remedies. 

Can I Bring a Wrongful Death Lawsuit for a Fatal Cruise Ship Accident?

A wrongful death lawsuit is a type of lawsuit that can be filed by a close family member of a deceased individual against the person or entity who caused their death. In general, most wrongful death lawsuits related to fatal cruise ship accidents involve a victim’s family member suing the cruise line company itself.  

As discussed above, family members who prevail on wrongful death lawsuits can collect damages for loss of consortium, funeral costs, loss of benefits, pain and suffering the victim endured before their death, and in some cases, punitive damages. 

Additionally, depending on the circumstances, family members may also be able to recover benefits under a federal statute known as the “Death on the High Seas Act (DOSHA)”. 

DOSHA applies to deaths that occur at least three nautical miles from the coastline of any state and can only be filed by a decedent’s personal representative or the executor of an estate. The executor will sue on behalf of the deceased’s close relatives, such as their spouse, children, parents, etc. 

It should be noted, however, that recovery in DOSHA actions will be limited to monetary damages like burial costs and lost benefits. In other words, noneconomic damages (e.g., punitive damages or damages for pain and suffering) cannot be sought under DOSHA actions.   

What If the Cruise Line Claims They Have Limited Their Liability?

One issue that frequently arises in cruise line lawsuits is that the cruise line may claim that they have limited liability. What this usually means is that there are contract conditions printed on a passenger’s cruise line ticket that explicitly say the company cannot be held responsible in certain situations. In fact, a ticket may literally state that the cruise line either has “limited liability” or “will be released from liability” for specific incidents. 

By simply purchasing a ticket, such statements can serve as a waiver to future legal actions. If a court finds that the terms are valid, a victim may not be able to claim damages for their injuries or their damages may be reduced.   

However, not all limited liability terms are valid and some liability restrictions do not apply in every case. Therefore, it is important to consult a cruise ship accident lawyer for further legal advice. They may be able to argue that the incident in question does not fall under the limited liability terms or that the terms are unenforceable or go against public policy. 

What If the Incident Occurs Outside the United States?

Incidents that occur outside of the United States (e.g., in international waters) are typically governed by federal regulations, such as federal Maritime law. However, when an incident specifically relates to a cruise line injury, many cruise line companies will provide a clause relating to forum-selection or venue on the back of a passenger’s ticket. 

Oftentimes, lawsuits involving cruise line injuries will be heard in select federal courts located in either Miami, Florida or Los Angeles, California, regardless of where the passenger lives. The main reason as to why cruise line lawsuits are primarily held in one of these two jurisdictions is because those are where the majority of cruise line companies are headquartered. 

Do I Need A Personal Injury Lawyer? 

Cruise ship injury lawsuits can be extremely difficult to handle without the help of a lawyer. They often involve multiple areas of law and if an incident occurs in international waters, it may be hard to figure out exactly which laws apply. 

Additionally, if you do not know which regulations govern your lawsuit or whether a certain injury requires you to follow a different set of rules, then you may miss the statute of limitations deadline and could lose your opportunity to recover damages for your injury. 

Therefore, if you have or a loved one have suffered injuries on a cruise line, then it may be in your best interest to contact a cruise ship injury lawyer for further legal guidance. Your lawyer can explain what laws apply to your case, where your case will be heard, and whether the terms of your cruise ship ticket will prevent you from bringing a lawsuit.

If you have a viable claim, your lawyer can help you prepare and file a case before the statute of limitations expires, provide representation in court, and can potentially assist you in starting or joining a class action.